Interesting Tidbits to Consider for 2016

Jan 18, 2016


Odell Beckham Jr. has had a historic start to his career

The 2015 NFL season saw a number of impressive individual breakout performances. The 2015 season also saw individual performances that either replicated 2014 breakouts (Odell Beckham’s 2015 campaign immediately comes to mind) or revealed that some 2014 breakouts were flukes (as C.J. Anderson owners who wasted a first or second round pick on him can empathize).

Heading into 2016 fantasy football drafts, owners will again have to figure out which 2015 individual performances were legitimate and which were simply statistical flukes that won’t be reproduced.

The below quick tidbits may help shed light on which players should be targeted in 2016 redraft or dynasty leagues, and which players may be potential 2016 sleepers or busts.

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According to Pro Football Focus, while under pressure in 2015, Carson Palmer had a league leading 57.8% completion percentage
Tom Brady was next with 50.8%. Also according to PFF, and on a statistically related note, Carson Palmer was inaccurate on only an extremely impressive 8.8% of what PFF defines as intermediate passes (10-19 air yards) in 2015. By comparison, the NFL average of inaccuracy on intermediate passes in 2015 was a much higher 17.6%. In 2016, Palmer will not fly under the radar in fantasy drafts. His ability to perform while pressured by defenses, tied into his ability to find receivers on short passing routes, indicates 2015 was no fluke, but a continuation of his solid 2014 campaign (before injury). His 2015 performance should propel him into the QB1 upper-tier discussion (and rightfully so).

According to Elias Sports, Kirk Cousins’ 74.7% completion percentage at Fed Ex Field in 2015 was the highest home completion percentage ever in an NFL season
Cousins’ 74.7% home completion percentage beat Drew Brees’ 73.6% home (Superdome) completion percentage from 2013. Heading into 2016, Cousins, who finished the year red hot, should be a solid streaming option for owners looking to pick up a QB flyer in the later draft rounds. While we wouldn’t advise using Cousins as a matchup proof starting QB, despite his hot finish to 2015, he certainly projects as a viable streaming option depending upon which defense he is facing, particularly at home.

Over the past five years, Matthew Stafford has a 31.2 Total QBR with Calvin Johnson off the field
Stafford’s Total QBR with Johnson on the field over the last 5 years has been a much higher 58.9. This is a significant difference in Total QBR, particularly given the large sample size. Clearly, Matt Stafford’s success is directly correlated to Calvin Johnson’s ability to remain on the field. In 2015, Stafford completed 398 of 592 passes for 4,262 yards, 32 TDs and 13 interceptions. His 67.2 completion percentage was the best of his career. Despite these numbers and a strong finish to the season (a completion percentage of 70 after the Lions’ Week 9 bye), Stafford remains a low-end QB1 for fantasy purposes heading into 2016. Too many variables, most notably his success as related to Calvin Johnson’s ability to stay on the field, renders Stafford the definition of a boom-bust QB. While this makes Stafford a great option in DFS tournament formats, he is way too risky to rely upon as a starting seasonal league fantasy QB.

Russell Wilson is the first player in NFL history to record 4,000 passing yards, 30 Pass TDs and 500 rush yards in a single season
This is somewhat of a randomly conceived stat, but it exemplifies the dominant season Wilson had in 2015. Much like Cam Newton, Wilson serves as both a QB and partial RB, which enhances his value (and fantasy point total), particularly in leagues where active rosters are smaller. Wilson should be one of the first QBs off the draft board in 2016 redraft leagues and he is obviously an excellent keeper option in dynasty leagues given where he was drafted (ADP) in 2015.

The 2015 Seattle Seahawks became the first team since 1970 AFL-NFL merger to lead the NFL in scoring defense in four consecutive seasons
Nothing to see here folks. The Seahawks continued their four year streak as the top scoring defense in the league and, accordingly, will remain the top D/ST heading into 2016 fantasy drafts, despite their performance against Carolina in the Divisional Playoffs.

Speaking of the Seahawks, in 2015 they led the NFL with 1,007 rush yards before contact and the Bills and Buccaneers tied for the highest average yards per rush at 4.80
This stat not only speaks to the abilities of the running backs on Seattle, Buffalo and Tampa Bay, but also the strength of their respective OLs. In Seattle’s case, this stat was particularly impressive given the turnstile at the running back position due to Marshawn Lynch’s injuries). Both Lynch and Thomas Rawls must be on fantasy radars in 2016. In Rawls’ case, he should be targeted in the early middle rounds in dynasty formats if he is, somehow, still available. LeSean McCoy should be targeted in the early rounds of 2016 drafts with the caveat that he is handcuffed with potential 2016 breakout, Karlos Williams, due to injury concerns. That said, Williams should, of course, be targeted as a “standalone” RB in both redraft leagues and, to the extent he is still available, dynasty leagues given his big play ability and age. Finally, irrespective of whether Doug Martin resigns with Tampa Bay, Doug Martin should be an early round RB draft pick. If he remains with Tampa Bay, that will serve to bolster his ceiling, but he has proven that 2012 was no fluke and should perform no matter where he plays. Finally, Charles Sims should be on fantasy radars, especially in PPR formats, either as a Martin handcuff or standalone RB. Should Martin sign elsewhere, and Tampa Bay promote Sims to full-time feature back, Sims’ value (and ADP) will of course skyrocket.

Tim Hightower was on 33.6% of ESPN fantasy championship-winning rosters in standard leagues
This percentage was the highest among all NFL players in standard leagues. Anyone who had Hightower, picked him up off waivers sometime after the Week 13 injury to Mark Ingram to bolster their playoff run, which would suggest why such a high percentage of championship teams had him rostered. Essentially, only playoff teams were picking him up. The owners of any team already eliminated after Week 13 were not likely playing the waiver wire at the time Hightower became fantasy relevant. That said, heading into 2016, if Ingram remains sidelined with a rotator cuff injury and the Saints don’t bolster their RB corps, Hightower makes for a solid later-round RB option in 2016 (do not be fooled and overpay for him) who can be a streaming difference maker, while C.J. Spiller will remain fantasy irrelevant.

The 2015 Buccaneers allowed the third-highest completion percentage (70.0%) in NFL history
Only the 2011 Colts (71.2%) and 2007 Lions (70.1) were worse. This stat is surprising simply because I would have guessed the completion percentage allowed by the Saints was worse. This would also explain why, at least in part, Lovie Smith was dismissed as head coach following the season. What does this mean for fantasy owners in 2016? Well, for DFS owners, they should keep in mind cheap WRs who will be facing the Bucs, at least early in 2016. For seasonal fantasy leagues, assuming the statistical trend continues and the Bucs are unable to rectify their historically bad secondary, middle-tier WRs, particularly on Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans, facing Tampa Bay will make for decent streaming options next year.

Since Ben McAdoo became the offensive coordinator of the Giants in 2014, the Giants rank fourth in TD passes and ninth in points per game
The Giants’ problem over the past three years hasn’t been their offense. It has been their horrific defense. In 2015, for example, Odell Beckham Jr. passed Randy Moss for the most receiving yards through the first two seasons in NFL history with 2,755 yards. Additionally, Eli Manning finished 2015 with 4,436 yards which was the second highest total of his career (and second-highest total in Giants history). Additionally, Manning’s 2015 QB passer rating of 93.6 was a career high. With McAdoo taking over as HC in 2016, we can expect the Giants’ offensive scheme to remain the same and their passing game should continue to roll. This, of course, makes Manning a very solid lower-tier 2016 QB1 with a high ceiling, and Beckham has established himself as a legitimate top WR who will remain one of the top three WRs (along with Julio Jones and Antonio Brown) in all of fantasy football for 2016. Should Victor Cruz finally return from his devastating 2014 knee injury, it will serve to bolster Manning’s value and put Cruz on late round/middle tier WR radars. The Giants’ running game, however, could remain frustratingly inconsistent under McAdoo’s leadership, unless the Giants make a decision to establish Rashad Jennings as lead back from the outset of the season. If that does happen, Jennings becomes a solid late round draft option in seasonal formats.

Julio Jones & Antonio Brown combined for the most single-season receiving yards by a WR duo in NFL history with 3,705 yards
There is no question that both Jones and Brown should be the first two WRs off the board in redraft leagues in 2016. This statistic only confirms that fact. Jones finished the season with a total of 1,871 receiving yards, while Brown finished with 1,834 even with Ben Roethlisberger out for a few games. Given the high propensity of injuries suffered at the RB position in 2015 and the goal of any owner to draft a reliable/safe stud in the first round, Jones and/or Brown should be the first pick in most drafts in 2016 (especially in PPR formats), with Odell Beckham following closely behind.

Over his last four games in the regular season, John Brown was targeted 29 times and hauled in 14 receptions, along with 186 yards and three TDs
In 2015, Brown recorded a career-high 65 catches, 1,003 yards & seven TDs. As the season progressed, Brown, who scored a TD in four of his last five home games, became more and more involved in the Cardinals’ passing game and red zone offense. It will be interesting to see how many times he is targeted as the playoffs continue, relative to Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, especially in the red zone (in the Divisional Playoff game against Green Bay, he was targeted nine times versus Fitzgerald’s 12 targets and Floyd’s seven). This could provide a glimpse of how he will continue to be utilized in 2016. As it stands now, Brown will be a top-20 WR heading into 2016, with the potential to really breakout and finish in the top-10, particularly if his red zone looks continue to increase.

Speaking of the Cardinals’ WRs, Larry Fitzgerald‘s 109 receptions in 2015 were the most in a single season in Cardinals franchise history
Heading into 2015 fantasy drafts, Fitzgerald’s value had dropped due to “down” year in 2014 in which he only had two TDs and 784 yards receiving. Many owners felt that Fitzgerald was in decline and as a result, his ADP fell into the early middle rounds. Those owners who took a chance on Fitzgerald were rewarded with an incredible season which was, statistically, his best since 2009. While age and injury concerns will remain for Fitzgerald heading into 2016, there is obviously no question he is an elite talent playing on an explosive offense with a top-tier QB in Carson Palmer. We all saw what he did in the Divisional Playoff game against Green Bay, essentially carrying the Cardinals on his back to the NFC Championship with an 8-176-1 performance. The resurgent Fitzgerald will remain a middle-tier WR1/high-end WR2 option in all fantasy formats in 2016.

Allen Robinson became the fourth player in NFL history with 1,400 receiving yards in his age-22-or-younger season
The only other players to do this were Josh Gordon, Randy Moss and Larry Fitzgerald. The young Robinson is clearly in good company and is a legitimate fantasy WR option heading into 2016. Much like the more established Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham, Robinson should be one of the first WRs off the board in 2016 redraft leagues. He is an explosive playmaker on an offense which will continue to produce in 2016 behind Blake Bortles. If Robinson is, somehow, available via trade in dynasty leagues, owners would be wise to trade for him given his age. With Allen Hurns and Julius Thomas also drawing coverage on the Jaguars offense, at 22-years old Robinson is only going to get better as he becomes more mature and established in the pass-heavy NFL.

The 49ers were last in the NFL in scoring this season, averaging 14.9 points per game
This total was the fourth-worst single-season average in 49ers’ history. Having now hired Chip Kelly as HC, the 49ers will try to infuse their historically bad offense in 2016 with a more fast-paced approach which could possibly help to bolster numbers for Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and Carlos Hyde. That said, Kelly’s offensive scheme didn’t do much for the fantasy value of 2014 studs DeMarco Murray or Jordan Matthews in 2015. As a result, Boldin, Smith and Hyde make for very risky draft selections in 2016. While Hyde and Boldin certainly shouldn’t be ignored in redraft formats, owners would be wise not buy into the Chip Kelly hype and spend a higher draft pick on either. Alternatively, until the 49ers can establish their offense and turn it around, owners in DFS and seasonal leagues should, at least at the outset of 2016, consider streaming D/ST units facing San Francisco.

According to Pro Football Focus, Theo Riddick led the NFL with 36 broken tackles after a catch this season
In addition to Charles Sims, mentioned earlier, Riddick is an excellent later-round RB option, especially in PPR formats. In 2015, Riddick didn’t do much on the ground but he tallied a 80-697-3 line in the passing game (and was targeted 99 times), largely behind his ability to break tackles after the catch. In fact, Riddick’s 80 receptions led all NFL running backs. Riddick is a viable PPR breakout candidate in 2016 at only 25-years old.

Pro Football Focus also reported that after Theo Riddick, Golden Tate came in second in the NFL with 30 broken tackles after a catch
Whatever they are teaching their receivers in Detroit about breaking tackles, it’s clearly working. While Golden Tate didn’t replicate his 2014 season (in which he went 99-1331-4 largely because Calvin Johnson was injured for part of 2014) this year, he still put up impressive numbers. Much like Riddick, this was largely due to his ability to break tackles. Tate finished the 2015 season with 90 receptions, 813 yards and six TDs. Although he didn’t register any 100+ receiving yard games in 2015 (after recording five such games in 2014), Tate still had a very solid season as WR2 in all fantasy formats. In 2016, owners can expect similar production from Tate to what he did in 2015, assuming Calvin Johnson remains healthy.

Nicky Tapas is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Nicky, check out his archive and follow him @nickytapas71.

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